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“All musicians practice ear training constantly, whether or not they are cognizant of it. If, when listening to a piece of music, a musician is envisioning how to play it or is trying to play along, that musician is using his or her ‘ear’ – the understanding and recognition of musical elements – for guidance.” – Steve Vai

Listening to music has been a pastime for billions of people throughout centuries. The majority of all people who will ever listen to music will never analyze what they hear, they will simply be entertained by it. At most they will relate to a lyric or be moved by a melody. The minority few will, however, attempt to figure out what is being played. In that small camp there are those who hear what is actually being played and are able to reproduce it.  The rest are those who think they hear what is being produced enough to reproduce the sound but quite honestly aren’t able to get close to the original at all. It comes down to ear training.

Music is a funny thing. Our ears listening to music is even wilder. If you are someone who can hear what’s being played and then play it right back you are extremely blessed! If you are not, then there is still hope for you as long as you’re willing to try some new things. For those who think they hear something being played, try playing it themselves but it’s wrong but you still believe with all your heart it’s the right then you might be out of luck. The best musician is the one who never quits learning. Who never says: “I’ve got this figured out”.

When listening to music for the purpose of analyzation the first place to begin to train your ear is by learning from someone who has already trained their own ear. With the invention of YouTube, some of the best music teachers are now at your fingertips/computer monitor (or at least the teachers who post on YouTube are there).

Determine a song or a lick that you’d like to learn correctly. Make a shot at learning the piece by yourself then ask someone you know who can perform the song/lick correctly to show you how they play it. If you were right then you’ve learned that for this particular style you may be able to trust your ear and your ability. If you got it wrong, then you’ve opened yourself up to a time of learning. This is great news!

Watch how the teacher plays the part correctly. The key here is to figure out where you went wrong, not just learn how to play this particular piece correctly. Figure out why your approach was incorrect. In doing so you will improve your approach for the next piece you’d like to learn. This is the mentality of teaching someone to fish, rather than just catching a fish for them.

Another key factor for anyone learning how to truly play what they hear is to learn fundamental music theory. It’s both fun and mental [The Office quote]. Learning basic theory will help improve your piece analysis ten or twenty fold. Music, like light or any other science, behaves in defined ways. While there are many exceptions in music, the basics never change. A “C Chord” has been a C since Christ walked the earth. While I won’t go into introduction music theory here, YouTube and Google have a wide array of videos and websites to get you on your way. It’s critical.

Once you’ve honed your ear into being able to play what you hear you’ll be an asset to any worship team. It’s vitally important that you continue to grow in your ability to play what you hear. You can lose this skill. Practice sincerely does make perfect.

How does your team handle when a member does not play a part correctly? Do you recommend ear training to your teams? I’d love to hear from you! Message or comment.

-Micah Brooks